Kennedy captures crowd at Media Day

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Ole Miss fans know what they have in Andy Kennedy as their men's head basketball coach. Last season sold them completely.

Get away from Oxford and out into the SEC and national public and you understand it even more.

Kennedy's one of those head coaches who's just going to win. Not all coaches who come along can be described in such terms. But Andy can be.

And it's not something that's simply pulled out of the air or some general statement tossed about when yet another young coach comes along.

Andy Kennedy will win at Ole Miss, which he is doing already, or he'll win somewhere else. It's that simple.

Listen to Blue Ribbon Basketball's Chris Dortch, the magazine's editor who's covered college basketball for 30 years.

"I love Andy Kennedy. I think he's one of the brightest head coaches in the game. He was Coach of the Year in two leagues (Big East, SEC). And those were his first two years as a head coach. Tell me when that's ever been done?"

Ole Miss men's basketball may have had only "a few pockets of success" over the years, as Dortch said, and prior to Kennedy's arrival had four straight losing seasons. But it isn't Ole Miss basketball they talk about – yet. They talk about Kennedy, which means they are talking Ole Miss hoops.

It's a combo that can't be separated nor should it.

More Dortch.

"He gets it. He gets it with us, the media. He understands what makes the world go ‘round. He's personable. I saw him at the Final Four. He works the room. He knows everybody. He's well respected.

"I also like his style of play. To me, in this day and age, when you're competing for the entertainment dollar, it's all important. He wants to run up and down the floor. People like to watch it. Players like to play it.

"From the PR end to the Xs and Os to the personality to the recruiting, I think he's got the whole package."

And he's Ole Miss'.

His team hasn't garnered much respect over here, certainly not the respect that he has. But Andy knows that will come in time, and maybe even sooner than later. So, like other things beyond his control, it rolls off his back.

"After what we were able to accomplish last year, losing three key senior backcourt players off that team, I understand why expectations are low again for us. I don't necessarily agree with it. I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the things we were dealing with every day last year, the selling of a vision and trying to convince our guys that we can be successful, we aren't having any of those issues this year. Our guys expect to be successful, and they're putting forth the effort necessary to hopefully get the payoff.

"Last year we were picked last," Kennedy said, wrapping up that particular thought, "and everything worked out OK."

Ole Miss men's basketball needed a huge pick-me-up, and it got Andy Kennedy. In year one his team won a share of the West, he took his team to the second round of the NIT, and the Rebels won 21 games, which was one of the top four winningest men's hoops teams in UM annals.

So as he enters only his third season as a head coach at the Division I level, Kennedy is already a household name in college basketball. They know him. They know he wins. They know where he coaches. They know he will prove again and again that he will be successful.

"My first year (at Cincinnati) was a bit of a blur," he said. "This is year three for me. This is honestly the first time that it's my program. Maybe now we have some infrastructure where we can start taking some strides forward. Because of the unusual events leading up to me being the coach at Cincinnati, and then you get thrust into a new coaching situation like I was at Ole Miss, not having a good feel for my personnel, my university, the league, I feel much more comfortable in what we're working with and in what we're working against."

Even more Dortch.

"Somebody with asked me last year who my darkhorse candidate at Kentucky would be. I said I'd hire Andy Kennedy. That made the rounds. He will bring consistent success to Ole Miss."

"Andy, when you walk into a room, it just lights up," said a smiling reporter earlier today as the 6-foot-7 former college basketball star entered the vast conference room.

"That's just the light shining off my head," Kennedy said, as laughter ensued.

Andy's wrong. In college basketball circles, it's much, much more than that.

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